Veolia, the 150-year-old French company that specializes is waste and water, wants new blood.

The company has created an accelerator program to recruit start-ups to participate in prototype projects that could go simple. The premise is simple. Although Veolia conducts its own research, it can't research everything. It needs better access to what's percolating in Silicon Valley and in university labs.

Conversely, start-ups need access to pilot projects and credibility with large potential customers.

"What we can provide is the customer base and pilot capabilities," said Phillippe Martin, senior vice president of Veolia Environnement, during a presentation at the Cleantech Open.

The program sounds similar to IBM's VC program, but there are a few twists. Like IBM, Veolia will not invest directly in start-ups through the program. However, IBM mostly engages start-ups to help it with consulting engagements. Veolia's program will largely be fixed in concrete. The company may select start-ups to provide products for desalination pilots that Veolia will run for a few years.

Having Veolia as a big brother will definitely add heft and credibility to start-ups. Most conglomerates and large customers don't want to deal directly with start-ups, so Veolia will open doors. More importantly, Veolia's customers are some of the most conservative on the planet. It deals with municipal water agencies, which are typically more conservative than electric utilities. 75 percent of Veolia's 50 billion Euros in revenue a year come from public agencies.

So far, Veolia is working with NanoH2O, a company that has devised an energy efficient desalination membrane. It started as an academic paper at UCLA in the middle of the decade. The company is currently looking for companies that can help it separate and segment metals in waste streams. Veolia currently only recycles 15 percent of the trash it picks up. It wants to boost that figure to 30 percent.

Veolia will also try not to get bogged down in conglomerate sclerosis. It will tell start-ups within a week if they are interested, evaluate the technology in four weeks, and then determine if it wants to go forward with the start-up in 12 weeks. Ten people work in the accelerator program full time.

Tags: air, desalination, nanoh2o, waste water, water